Girls and Freedom

Where I come from, girls are monitored much more carefully than are boys. Still, yes, even decades after the Dinosaur Era when I was a child.

Girls are taught they are responsible for the comfort of others, the ones who will find you that cool drink, the most comfortable chair, the clean sheets. And they are the ones who are admonished to be modest. And ready to be a mother at the drop of a hat.

Taken to its extremes, the message to girls can be the same in South Carolina or Saudi Arabia: You are responsible for how men treat you. Cover yourself appropriately, don’t be loud or boastful or too sexy. And maybe then you’ll be safe from men’s “animal instincts.” (The insult to men is noted!) But control over when and how you have children is pretty much out of your hands.

These days, however, nearly every ad, movie, or product placement screams at women to unleash their inner animal. To show the world “what you got.”

There is a freedom to be found in pride and enjoyment in one’s body. But there is also a line between pride and being eye candy, easily dismissed, a line that is seldom discussed. And modesty can be a tool like any other.

How is a girl to parse all this?

In Eve’s Garden, I wanted to explore this world. To talk about “bad girls” and what they give to us, their friends. To look at what happens when a young woman does put herself first. To examine Louise Westerly’s suggestion, in Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens, that women have to leave the South to earn their freedom.

I do know, from conversations with friends, that many of us GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) and Romniya (Romani women) have pondered whether we would have had more choices elsewhere.

Do girls in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, or Kenya feel the same? I suspect they do, given the news items about the Boko Haram, Malala, and the recent spates of gang rapes in India.

But what will happen to our world, the one we grew up in, to our daughters and nieces and mothers, if we don’t stay and try to make a little more space for those who come after?

This is part of what I wanted to examine in Eve’s Garden. I hope it might somehow, even in a small way, make a difference. In my library talks, especially, I’ll see if we can get a good conversation going on this topic.

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